Friday, February 23, 2007

Things Done and Left Undone - Part I

Two days ago, Ash Wednesday ushered in the Christian season of Lent. Lent is a period of 40 days (not including Sundays) when the church turns its focus inward just a bit. The point of turning inward is to be introspective. Not to navel gaze, marveling at how wonderful we are, but actually to do just the opposite. We are to spend time looking inward to "take stock." To notice that we're doing things we shouldn't be doing and that we're not doing the things we should be doing. In the lexicon of my tribe, that's called, "things done and left undone."

Basically, folks, what we're talking about here is good old fashioned SIN.

Let's face it - it's something we all do.

Maybe, though, you don't like the word sin. Maybe it conjurs up too many fire and brimstone sermons, too many televangelists with really bad hair, too many...I dunno, syllables when it's said with vim and know, siiii-iiiiiyyyyy-uuuunnnnn-nnn!

If that's your problem then I have a helpful other way of understanding SIN:

In the Greek of the New Testament the word that gets translated in English as "sin" is hamartia (ha-mar-tee-ah). That Greek word comes from the sport of archery and it means "to miss the mark" or "to miss the target." In other words, we might be trying to succeed (after all, we're standing there with a bow and arrow in our hands, facing a target) but, our aim isn't true. And we have to face the fact that there is a danger in missing the mark. Arrows have sharp barbs at their end. They are intended to stick when they hit a target. So when we're off our mark, that sharp end can inflict damage when it lands where it shouldn't.

I'm reminded of the first poem that ever made me cry. It was in a Child's Garden of Verse (I think) or at least a Children's book of fables and poetry that I learned to read as a child. This is how the poem goes:

The Arrow And The Song
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

The funny thing is that when I remember that poem, I'm always confusing it a bit. I always forget the part about the song and I wrongly remember that the arrow landed "in the heart of a friend." The reason is because when I first cried over this poem as a very young child, I misunderstood it and thought that's what the poem was about - an arrow flying off willy nilly into the air and landing in his friend's heart. And so now that image is ingrained in my brain, and it's the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this poem. I still get teary-eyed reading this little sappy poem! I hate that. But I think there's a lesson in there for me: Even though I had missed the mark on the poem, the lesson didn't miss making an impression on me. How awful that would be, to injure someone right in the heart! And yet, how often do I do that very thing?

So, you see, that's what sin is basically about. We set out, often to do the right thing, but our aim is off. Somehow we haven't quite got our sight lined up properly, or we wobble as we let the arrow fly, or we don't give it all we've got - and the result is that we "miss the mark." If we're lucky, it will just go flying off and land harmlessly in a tree trunk. But that's not always the case. There's almost always someone else standing very near that target who's likely to get at least nicked, if not hit directly. And then there's the collateral damage.

Think about it. Pray about it. I bet if you spend some time in quiet and ask God to reveal to you the "things done and left undone" by you, then you'll see just where your arrows have landed - no matter how swifly they seemed to have flown out of sight at the time. And then, when you go out to sort out those arrows that have missed the mark, ask for permission to remove them because the removal can sometimes hurt as much as the initial hit did. This necessary task must be handled gingerly. You should also offer to help with the binding up of the wound; but be prepared for the unintended target to say, "No thanks - you've done enough - I'll deal with this one myself."

And, if I may, I'd like to make one more suggestion: Either way, as you walk away after this ordeal, try softly breathing a song...

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